Comparing materials and fabrics is one of the best and easiest ways to understand differences in performance and composition between different materials.
In our efforts to make it easier for you to access this information and to also understand the fabrics and materials we write about so often when discussing jackets, we have done several comparisons.
This week we will continue with another comparison between two materials that share some similarities, but are distinctly different from each other. We will look at Polyester vs. Wool.
While we have compared Fleece to Wool in a prior article, Polyester is more than just fleece, which is why we will look at it as a material that is so commonly used in jackets and coats in many of its forms, not solely limited to wool-mimicking fleece.
Let’s get started!
- 1. Polyester
- 2. Wool
- 3. Polyester vs Wool: Comparison and Differences
- 4. Which One is Better?
- 5. Use in Coats and Jackets
A synthetic material, Polyester is not simply a fabric, but a thermoplastic in its composition.
Originally created in 1941 by two British scientists, Polyester fibers entered the textile industry in 1945, when DuPont patented and launched them as the new material to be used in clothing and household textile products.
In its composition, Polyester consists of a long chain of esters, which is where it also gets its name from, meaning many (poly) esters that are bound together through a number of chemical reactions.
The plastic that is created through these reactions is then melted and spun into a machine that consists of many spinnerets, which shape the fibers in different lengths and thicknesses.
After the fibers are created, then they are ready to be used for making fabrics, either on their own or blended with other fibers, usually cotton, elastane or nylon.
Characteristics of Polyester
The use of polyester in the textile industry is due to its characteristics, which make it a very desirable and versatile material.
Because it is hydrophobic in nature, polyester does not absorb water to the extent that other fibers do. For this reason, it is very good at wicking moisture away, making it a useful fabric for adding breathability to a garment.
Another useful quality that derives directly from polyesters dislike of water, is in technical clothing, for weather resistance.
Despite not being too great at withstanding the elements, polyester is considerably better than a lot of other fibers in this regard. In addition to that, polyester fibers are also quick-drying, which comes in handy when caught in bad weather.
Durability and resistance to chemicals and average heat are two other characteristics that make polyester so useful.
Because of this, polyester as a fabric is also very wrinkle-resistant, making it easy to care for.
It is a non-pilling fabric, especially for higher quality compositions, and it is also very lightweight overall.
When it comes to its disadvantages, Polyester is susceptible to high temperatures due to being a plastic. Because of this, it melts and careful steps are required if ironing is necessary. If you’re interested, here we have a guide on how to iron Polyester.
It is also prone to hold on to oil-based stains and odors, but the latter is not too immediate of an issue on jackets.
Natural and sourced from a variety of different animals, wool is a high-performance material that poses very few environmental and ethical problems.
This is because it is sourced through shearing of animals that produce wool, which is a process that does not require damaging the longevity or well-being of the animals.
Typically wool is sourced from different sheep breeds, rabbits and goats, but alpacas and other uncommon animals are sheared for their soft and quality wool.
As a material, wool is used for insulation, primarily in undergarments, socks and smaller outerwear. However, coats made of wool are also widely used because of their warmth and a number of other qualities, which we will look at right away.
Characteristics of Wool
Aside from its ability to insulate, wool has a number of other characteristics that make it such a widely used and versatile material.
First of all, a characteristic that gives wool its insulating ability is its temperature regulation, which comes from its primary purpose in animals, that of keeping them warm in winter and cool in summer.
For this reason, not only is wool a great temperature regulator, it also breathes exceptionally well, which further helps with cooling down.
Due to it being an animal-based product that helps them withstand different types of weather, wool is also water repellent due to the lanolin coating that is naturally produced by sheep and other wool-producing animals.
It is also odor-free as a material, which is why it is used as a base layer. Because it does not hold on to odors it does not require frequent washing and thus it lasts longer.
Wool is also naturally durable and long lasting, capable of lasting for decades without losing its appearance or performance.
Merino wool, which is a type of wool sourced from Merino sheep, provides a considerable level of UV protection, even when compared to other types of wool.
Other comparison you might like: Wool vs Cotton Fabrics
3. Polyester vs Wool: Comparison and Differences
Both polyester and wool are primarily used as insulating layers in coats, jackets and other garments. Out of the two, wool is the better choice because of its temperature-regulating ability.
As we mentioned, polyester provides a basic level of protection against the elements and so does wool.
Out of the two, wool takes much longer to get wet, but it also takes much longer to dry than polyester.
Wool withstands wet conditions better and it continues to insulate even when wet, which polyester also does, but at a lower level.
Both polyester and wool are considerably breathable, with wool being far superior in this regard.
This is one of the main reasons why wool is used as a base layer, because it helps cool the body down quicker and also allows for considerable moisture wicking.
Being man-made, polyester’s synthetic nature makes it a worse choice for the environment due to the use of numerous chemical processes that go into creating polyester fibers.
It is a highly durable material, which does lower the need for re-manufacture and it can also be recycled, as we have seen many brands do.
With that being said, wool is the better of the two in this regard too.
It is sourced through a process that is essential for the well-being of the animals, does not require chemical processes to be used and is highly durable and long-lasting, in addition to being biodegradable.
When it comes to maintenance, polyester is easier to wash and clean, and it also dries quite fast. But, once again, wool is better in this regard because it does not require being washed as frequently and does not hold on to odors like polyester does.
4. Which One is Better?
Wool performs better than polyester in most areas, but it is pricier.
For that reason, if you are looking for a garment that will withstand harsh conditions, a technical jacket made of polyester is a better choice.
Wool is better for the environment, however, and requires less maintenance overall.
Which one is better will come down to what you are looking for, because these are very different in how they perform.
5. Use in Coats and Jackets
Polyester is widely used in jackets either as a standalone fabric or as part of a laminate, when it comes to shells. It is also the primary fabric used as a lining in jackets and can also be used as insulation.
Another form of polyester, the fleece, is also widely used to add warmth to a jacket or help with breathability, as we have seen in Softshells.
When it comes to wool, it is mainly used in coats that are made for insulation and warmth. These coats tend to be heavier than polyester jackets and are better suited for dry conditions.
There are jackets and coats that combine wool and polyester to get the best of both materials and make a coat that is able to withstand the elements better, while providing great insulation and higher breathability.